We had moved into our apartment only a couple of months before, and with summer heading into its fullest flush, we noticed a thicket of blackberry bushes in one corner of the backyard. Needless to say, this was very exciting. The best part was, they were huge. Our yard is fenced on only two sides, and the bushes were sufficiently large that, on one of the unenclosed sides, they formed a partial wall along the property line. As walls go, it was somewhat ugly and unkempt, but it was covered in blackberries. Covered.
So we started picking, and then we picked some more. We made blackberry sorbet and a batch of jam. One afternoon, I decided to make some scones, so I went out with an empty Tupperware to harvest a little more. I was hunched over, picking intently on our side of the bush-wall, daydreaming about baked goods and probably humming something innocent and uplifting, when I heard footsteps. I looked up to see our next-door neighbor, the one whose yard adjoins the bushes, marching across the lawn. She came to a stop a few feet away, looked me up and down, and then spat, “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”
Stunned, I giggled nervously and explained that we had just moved in, and that I had this great scone recipe that my sister had given me, and that I wanted to make a batch with fresh blackberries, and giggle giggle giggle.
“Well, this is my bush,” she snapped. “I planted it. And I use it every summah to make blackberry cooorrdial.” [In my mind, when I replay our conversation, I give her an upper-class British accent, even though she doesn’t have one. I think it makes her seem especially stern, don’t you? Like a strict governess, or maybe Queen Elizabeth.]
I wish I could tell you that I had a smart retort at the ready, or that I shot her down by pointing out that this particular side of the bush fell on my property or that blackberries are, in this part of the country, a non-native invasive weed, not something that one generally plants. In fact, they are considered a Weed of Concern by King County - I love that term, “Weed of Concern” - and if she did indeed plant these bushes, my (tall, imposing) landlord would probably like to have a word with her and, possibly, request that she pay a gardener to remove the bushes from my side of the property line.
Unfortunately, I only thought of these things after I had skulked away and gone inside to lie down and contemplate the general cruelty of the universe. I also contemplated the Robert Frost poem “Mending Wall” and its wise line, “Good fences make good neighbors.” I love our delicate bush-wall, but for a minute there, I wished for something a little more substantial, like wood or brick or stone. Preferably with barbed wire on top.
Of course, I am able to tell you this now because our neighbor is no longer our neighbor. She still owns the property next door, but she moved out about a year ago and rented it to a couple of girls who are not only nice, but whose wardrobes and hair I covet. And last Friday afternoon, when it was scorchingly hot and all the blackberries were fat and warm, I took my Tupperware and went picking. I came back inside a half hour later with one pound of berries - having also, in that time, had a very nice conversation, pet a cute pug, been invited to a party, and received a glass of lemonade. I feel much better about everything.
And while I can’t exactly spread the good will by inviting you to the party, which already happened, or by sharing the lemonade, which I already drank, I am happy to pass along the recipe for the frozen yogurt that I made from the blackberries. I based it on David’s recipe for strawberry frozen yogurt, which I made twice last month and highly, highly recommend. It’s not frozen yogurt in the Pinkberry sense, so don’t start expecting a mound of rippling soft-serve, but it is utterly delicious - and, in my book, so much better. Also, it’s dead-easy. You macerate the berries in sugar and a small splash of vodka, puree them with plain yogurt and lemon juice, and freeze. That’s all. Think sorbet, essentially, but with a gentle roundness and soft tang from the addition of yogurt. Our friend Ben declared it “terrif,” for which we teased him mercilessly. He was right, though, and assuming that our good neighbors agree, I think I will make another batch this week.
Blackberry Frozen Yogurt
Inspired by The Perfect Scoop, by David Lebovitz
1 pound fresh blackberries, rinsed
¾ cup sugar
2 tsp. vodka
1 cup plain whole-milk yogurt
1 ½ tsp. fresh lemon juice
In a medium bowl, toss the blackberries with the sugar and vodka, stirring until the sugar begins to dissolve. Cover, and let stand at room temperature for 1 hour.
In a blender, process the blackberries and their liquid with the yogurt and lemon juice until smooth. (I generally do this in two batches; it seems to work better that way.) Place a mesh sieve over a medium bowl, and pour the mixture through the sieve to remove the seeds. Taste. It should be a little too sweet at this point, but that’s good; it will taste less sweet when frozen.
Refrigerate the mixture for one hour. Then freeze in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
Yield: 1 scant quart